For a long time, there’s been a battle inside my head. I’ve been wrestling with a question, trying to wrap myself around something we all wonder about. Why am I really here? What’s my purpose anyway? Is this all there is? How do I find some joy and meaning amid the unending messiness and soul-sucking disarray of daily life? How do I untangle myself from the troubles, fears, worries, distractions and concerns of daily life so that I can get to the heart of why I was born? Why do I bow down to the tyranny of the urgent instead seeking what is meaningful and lasting?
I’ve had many conversations lately with people of every age, men and women who, when asked how they are doing answer “busy” or “way too busy”. I mean right up to the doors of a nursing home or hospital bed the answer is the same; “busy”, “overwhelmed”, “exhausted”. And in reality, when that moment arrives and we find our self at the end of our days, we’d probably choose to go back to where we are today. My mom often quipped, “…back in the good old days, previously known as these trying times”, and isn’t that just the truth? It just might be we instinctively realize that for now we do have a choice.
I look around me and see pain and suffering, illness, accidents, heartbreaks. But far more common, I see people trapped in the gray fog of just making it through another day. To do what? Get a little rest; get off the hamster wheel for the weekend? And the weekend, full of its own drudgery, details and drama offers no relief. Slow death by the clock and calendar in a mind-numbing march to make it to the bottom of a list that never gets accomplished. In our heart we know this is not how we were designed to live.
But Betty, you say, I really have problems, big problems. I am worried about my parents, mad at my sister, my kid has no friends, my house is a mess, there are weeds everywhere, my back is killing me, we owe a huge amount to the IRS and have no money to pay it and, and, and. But on a scale of life, I have never met a person that does not have problems, obstacles and challenges. Not one solitary one.
Way back in 1851, Herman Melville wrote this in his classic, Moby Dick. “For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half-known life”. In the flowery language of the day Melville was saying it is necessary to find within our self that small island of peace and joy that can remain untouched by life’s stormy seas. The message today remains the same.
This dual nature of life has been guaranteed since the beginning of time. Jesus said in John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble”. He laid it right out, unvarnished. But he also taught, “I have overcome the world”. How did he suggest we do this? By focusing our attention above and beyond the chaos of daily living to what is eternal and intentionally turn in that direction.
I’m not naïve to the necessity of living in the world as it is. Very few of us have the means to take a lengthy sabbatical on a private tropical island. Fewer still would choose a monk’s life of contemplative minimalism. But what we can do is to decide on one or two things in life that matter to us at the very core of who we are. Then, we can make a genuine commitment to incorporate some small actions into our daily life that will move us in that destination.
Is it easy? No. Simple yes, easy no. In truth, it can be terribly hard. We begin with a commitment to living in a way that reflects what we decide matters most. Every day we can make tiny decisions and over time these choices can produce greater meaning in our life. We need to harness those desires and put them to work pulling us forward to a life of more peace and lasting happiness. We can start any time and if we fail we simply begin again. Very small changes can make a very big difference in how we look back on our life.
When we choose what matters most to guide our decisions, we will recognize what is real and what is only an illusion. Don’t allow your life to be used up chasing the ordinary; the endless pull of unimportant but deceptively urgent matters of the everyday. Focus a little less on doing things right and more on doing the right thing. Whether you call it your insular Tahiti or as in Phillipians 4:7 “the peace that passes all understanding”, when the sun sets at the end of each day you will look back with fewer regrets, more peace and more joy.